One of the paradoxes of current social software is how many of your closely-guarded secrets you are obliged to entrust to a third party. Take the social blogging site LiveJournal: its centralized server allows you to set blog posts to "friends only" or "private". To use this feature, you post these semi-confidential journal entries to LiveJournal's server, and rely on it to hide your thoughts from the most of the world using its centrally-maintained list of friends to control access. LiveJournal holds your secret data in trust, as much as you trust it to keep your public data available.
We give these companies a great deal of control over our privacy and our speech - and even if we trust that company with those responsibilities now, there are no guarantees that the pressures upon and motivations of that company will stay constant over time.
This week, members of the House Judiciary Committee introduced the "Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO IP) Act of 2007," a bill that ratchets up the federal government's role in dealing with intellectual property infringement. While portions of the bill seem legitimately targeted at combating mass, commercial counterfeiting operations, other parts are devoted to little more than protecting the entertainment industry's obsolete business models.
The music and film industry continues to pursue its idea of a politically "corrected" Internet - one that they imagine could protect their old business models without requiring any extra costs on their part.
This time, the fix is Internet-wide filtering. In a memo to European policy-makers, the International Federation of Phonographic Industries has called upon ISPs in Europe to filter the content sent across their networks, block protocols used by their customers, and cut off access to persistently infringing sites from the Net (you can read their full memo here). Left unsaid in it was the obvious implication: if ISPs aren't willing to comply, EU regulators should force the ISP's hand.
Facebook was the the target of much criticism in recent weeks, thanks to the rapid spread of reports about Facebook's Beacon, a tool that allows third-party websites to send information about user activities back to Facebook.
The controversy began when bloggers reported that their activity on certain non-Facebook sites was showing up on Facebook without their knowledge. The first public version of Becacon would give a user a limited amount of time to prevent a story from being published -- if the user missed the limited opportunity to say "no," Beacon automatically posted the activity to the users' profile. One of the first users to express concern about this automatic disclosure was a blogger who purchased a coffee table from Overstock.com, later finding the purchase reported on her Facebook profile.
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a surveillance bill that did not grant immunity to lawbreaking telecoms. At the time, many predicted a bitter showdown, because a different congressional committee had previously passed a bill that granted immunity. That showdown begins now, as the Senate Majority Leader prepares to choose a version for the full Senate to vote upon, setting the stage for a broader battle between granting immunity or rightfully letting the cases against lawbreaking telecoms continue unassailed.
It's been a roller-coaster few weeks for digital rights activists in Canada. A few weeks ago, rumors began circulating that the current minority Conservative government was going to present a copyright reform act before the New Year.
Unlike previous reform attempts, this new law was preceded by no public consultation. It's long been known that the US government and media companies are pressuring Canada to "normalize" its IP law with its southern neighbour.
The Senate showdown over whether to exonerate telecommunications companies for illegally surveilling their customers is underway. Senators Dodd, Feingold and Kennedy have lead the charge. All three made awesome and eloquent arguments for a transparent and accountable government.
Senator Chris Dodd (CT) has been my hometown Senator my whole life; it's great to see him taking leadership on this:
I will ask the Senate candidly, and candidly it already knows the answer: Is this about our security— or is it about (the President's) power?
At 4.30pm today, Harry Reid announced on the floor of the Senate that, given the complexity and contentiousness of immunity (which he says he backs Dodd in opposing) the bill will not come up before the holidays.
A very wise decision. Thanks are due to Senator Dodd, grassroots support, and your own many calls and letters for emphasizing just how dangerous and outrageous step this would be for any politician seeking to preserve the Constitution. We're not there yet, though, so keep the pressure up: write to your representative and demand that immunity not rise again in 2008!
XM and Universal Music Group (UMG) have apparently settled their lawsuit over XM's Inno (we explained the details in a May 2006 post when the suit was filed), the little receiver/recorder that promised to be like a TiVo for your satellite radio subscription. Early reports only speculate about the terms of the settlement, suggesting that XM is probably paying a royalty to UMG for every Inno sold.
Neuros Technology, manufacturer of open-source powered, analog-to-digital video recorder hardware, is spearheading a new effort to educate consumers about digital rights management (DRM) by establishing the "Unlocked Media" brand. The idea is for the "Unlocked Media" trademark to be freely available to innovators making products that allow media to be stored and played anywhere.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a rare example of a government program that actually serves the public. Journalists, citizens, and all sorts of public interest organizations (EFF included) use FOIA to bring to light government documents and information that would otherwise remain hidden from public view.
But FOIA’s effectiveness has declined in recent years. A report released in July showed that FOIA requests were increasingly getting stuck in bureaucratic limbo -- some for as long as 20 years! And after the September 11 attacks, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft instructed government agencies to withhold information they could release if there is any ground for keeping it from the public.
- ACLU files motion against Verizon in Oregon
The ACLU wants its case against Verizon to be allowed to go
forward, in light of recent court decisions.
- House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, websites
The House approved a bill that would force anyone offering
Wi-Fi access to report illegal or "obscene" images.
- Canadian songwriters and artists call for filesharing
A Canadian proposal would legalize P2P networks and
compensate artists when their music is shared.
Today, Apple news site Think Secret announced it has settled Apple's lawsuit against it. While the terms have not been disclosed, "no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published."
The Think Secret suit, filed several years ago, sought to hold Think Secret liable for posting news about upcoming Apple products. It is was filed around the same time as the Apple v. Does lawsuit in which EFF successfully represented Apple Insider and Powerpage, but with a critical difference. In Apple v. Does, Apple sought the identities of the sources in Apple Insider and Powerpage, but in Apple v. Think Secret, Apple sought to hold the journalists directly liable.
Digital Music News and BigChampagne report that 36.4% of all PCs world-wide have LimeWire installed, based on system scans of 1.6 million machines.
This is worth noting for at least two reasons. First, it reminds everyone that when it comes to digital music, the main event is still P2P file-sharing, as it has been ever since Napster's debut in 1999. The entire apparatus of "legitimate" online digital music stores (like iTunes) remains just a drop in the bucket. And the entertainment industries still haven't taken any meaningful steps toward a collective licensing solution to monetize P2P, as we've been urging since 2004.
Help the US Patent Office reject a bogus patent claim
The Peer-To-Patent Project (PtP) is a new initiative by New York Law School's Do Tank in cooperation with the US Patent Office (USPTO) that uses open source and open knowledge techniques to help stop the deluge of bad software patents in America. The project works by posting new software patent applications that have been voluntarily submitted by their inventors and asking the public to comment on them. It has been endorsed by such open source and Internet luminaries as Tim O'Reilly and PJ from Groklaw.
In another step forward for EFF's Patent Busting Project, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) last week issued an official rejection of all sixteen claims of the Test.com Internet test-taking method patent. The PTO granted re-examination last year after EFF submitted a petition that included several examples of prior art from a company called IntraLearn that had not previously been part of the PTO record. In light of that prior art, the PTO has now found that all sixteen of Test.com's claims obvious and non-patentable.